Wednesday, 21 April 2021

'His death was occasioned by puncturing his finger, while sewing up a dead body'; William Bingham (1793-1821) St Giles burial ground,


Here [St. Giles burial ground] also were interred the remains of William Bingham, surgeon to the Fever Hospital, Pancras-road, who departed this life May 3lst, 1821, aged 28 years. 'His death was occasioned by the puncturing his finger while sewing up a dead body.'

Frederick Miller: “Saint Pancras, past and present: being historical, traditional and general notes of the parish, including biographical notices of inhabitants associated with its topographical and general history” (London 1874)

William Bingham is one of those individuals who are only remembered for the ludicrous way in which they died. In this case it was a trifling injury, a needle prick, sustained whilst engaged in the gruesome, and ostensibly futile, activity of suturing a cadaver. His grave had almost certainly gone missing by the time Frederick Miller wrote ‘St. Pancras Past & Present’ but luckily Frederick Teague Cansick had made a note of his epitaph and published it in full in 1872 in ‘The Monumental Inscriptions of Middlesex with Biographical Notices and Description of Armorial Bearings Vol. II’. All subsequent written sources citing the epitaph omit the eulogistic lines of verse to focus on the bathos of the manner of his demise. Cansick’s transcription also rather mysteriously bears a first line saying ‘Here lies a kind parent’; as far as we know William Bingham was neither married nor had any children.

Bingham's epitaph from Cansick's 'Monumental Inscriptions...'

We don’t know much about William Bingham the surgeon. His parents were William Bingham and his wife Jane (nee Appleby) and he was born on 23 March 1793 and baptised on 08 April at St James in Westminster. He had two younger brothers, John and James, and when he was 11 his father died. His mother remarried 18 months later on 10 April 1806 to Timothy Hewlett, a wharfinger at Botolph’s wharf on the Thames. She was 41, he was 52. It was Timothy’s second marriage, his first had lasted for 14 years but remained childless when his wife died 1799. Timothy’s will, dated 06 August 1809, left his wife the interest of £1000 invested in the 5 per cents. If she died, the interest was to go to her eldest son William. But it was William who died first; his mother died on 29 September 1829 and was buried in the St. Giles burial ground on 06 October. Timothy died just a few days later and was buried on 17 October at All Hallows in Tottenham with his first wife. Two years later there was a case heard in the High Court of Chancery about William’s will; Timothy and Jane’s heirs were squabbling about money he had left in trust for his mother with the Hewlett’s arguing that when Jane died Timothy would have been her heir (for the 10 days or so he was still living) and on his death they became the rightful heirs to William’s money. Jane’s nephews argued that they were her heirs, not Timothy. As William had only left the interest on his money to his mother the Master of the Roll’s ruled that he intended his next of kin to inherit on his mother’s death. As Timothy was not ‘kin’ in the sense of being a blood relative he ruled that Jane’s nephews were the rightful heirs. 

The Small Pox Hospital at Kings Cross/St Pancras

The Fever Hospital at St Pancras, also known as the Small Pox hospital, was founded by Dr Robert Poole in 1740 and was originally had just 14 beds and was based in Windmill Street in Fitzrovia. The hospital moved to larger premises initially in Clerkenwell and then, in 1793 to a new purpose-built hospital in Battle Bridge, where the Great Northern Hotel currently stands in Kings Cross. This is where William Bingham would have worked, caring for the seriously ill infected and administering vaccinations which were, in 1821, just as controversial as they are in 202. This is from the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser of Friday 13 July 1821;

Vaccination. —During the last month the casual Small-pox was not very severe within the parishes of London and Bills of Mortality; the first week the month began with the loss of patients; five died in the second week, and seven in each of the following two weeks, making together 29 deaths, to which may now be added two who died in the Hospital at St. Pancras; but 414 were vaccinated there during that month. It is to be noticed, that the chicken-pox has been very prevalent, and has, from many similar appearances, been often mistaken for the second small-pox, after vaccination, called the varioloid disease; many of its characters have led persons anxious for the safety of their children to conceive it to be that disease, without the least foundation; and this has led them, their first alarm, to unjustly condemn and mistrust Vaccination, and to give hasty encouragement to practitioners, who avail themselves of their distress, by immediately inoculating with variolous matter, by which they spread the contagion, and give the pestilence to the patient and to the neighbourhood, instead of proceeding with the easy and short cure of the Chicken-pox, which almost every nurse has sufficient skill to cure by her general experience.